Monday 6 March 2023

Why Writers' Wink and Authors' Angst, but mostly a Reviewer's Rant

A scroll through my blogger dashboard tells me that I wrote my first review in May 2015; a short piece about Salman Rushdie's 'Shame'. But that isn't the first one I actually wrote, I'm sure, as I had another blog earlier. Still, let's use May 2015 as our starting point. It tells me its been eight years, give or take. And I also see that the pace of reviewing slacked off over the years. Part of this could be attributed to the pace of reading itself slacking off. I don't read as much as I used to, or would like to. But there are other reasons, too, and those are what i am going to talk about today.

First off, let me make it clear that I had no great ambitions when I started putting down my thoughts about the books I have read. I did not have any intent of being published in the Paris Review or NYRB (as a matter of fact, I had no idea of the existence of the NYRB until I came across it in the lockdown). I only wanted to express my thoughts about the books I read. Mostly, really, for my own reference. Having reached a time of my life and having gone through events that have left me unsure whether I will get to re-read any of the books I am reading currently, I thought it would be nice to try and put down my feelings about them, if for nothing else, than to leave me with an easy memory-stimulator for future reference for myself and as a way for anyone who wished to have a little reference guide for the said books. Maybe there was a little bit of self-importance involved in putting them up on the blog, I wouldn't care to deny it, and also a desire to keep updating it, for I was not writing enough original content to call myself a regular blogger.

But back then, eight years ago, I found a little audience, those who enjoyed reading my reviews and telling me that they did. And it was nice, it encouraged me to continue reading and writing, and not just reviews, at that. As the days passed, however, I began to get 'requests to review'. I suppose I was a part of 'Book-Facebook', which was the precursor to Booktok and Bookstagram and whatever else is going on in that world now. Now sometimes these requests would be from authors themselves, and sometimes from publishers. I tried to turn them down, but never quite knew how. It sounded churlish to say 'no', without having a good enough reason. It sounded too snobbish to say, "I would rather not, because I don't think it's likely to be very good and I would rather read and review good books". But most of all, I felt my objectivity to be compromised. I felt an obligation to say good things about the books I was reviewing. I might mercilessly point out the (oh so, so many) flaws in the output of Amish, or righteously bring out how Chetan Bhagat's talents at capturing bourgeoise-India's zeitgeist was  not enough to balance out his innate flaws as a story-teller and craftsman, and it would be an accurate assessment that would make little difference to either of them as they laughed all the way to the bank, but it felt wrong to be that critical of a hopeful amateur who, let's face it, was not likely to be making money from the book anyway. 

So I tried to find good things to say about those books, often looking for those needles of gold in massive haystacks of redundant, half-baked, unfiltered text. It was stressful, though, and I didn't like doing it. I'd also like to mention here that this was not the case for every such book I was reading; some were genuinely jewels in the rough, unexpected little treats that almost restored my faith in the writing community, until the next would bring me back down to earth.

Eventually, I stopped. Changes in circumstances had made it impossible to read more than a couple of books a year, and I barely had the energy to write reviews either. Eventually the requests stopped coming in as well, and life became peaceful.

Until I woke up today to be told that Blogger had unpublished a review I had written because it violated their 'Spam policy'. This is, on the face of it, ridiculous. The review is a full-length book review, nothing more or less. It has only a few back-links to other reviews on the same blog, and I did not share it randomly in places where such reviews might not be welcome. If anything, I barely shared it at all. After all, it was not a particularly favourable review, and so I had no reason to promote it. I had tried to find good things to say, but I had stopped well short of indulging in false praise. I saw no reason to share that widely; I did not even post the review to Goodreads or Amazon, for no author deserves that, even worse ones than whoever wrote that particular book. I did not even post the review to Goodreads or Amazon.

And yet, Blogger informs me it is unpublished? And that, due to a complaint? More to the point, seven-and-a-half years AFTER it was originally put up?

Something is not sitting right about this. And since I assume Google (Alphabet?) to be a faceless mega-corporation with no personal interest in troubling me, this means the person making the complaint had an objection to the content of the review.

I can draw conclusions, I suppose, and they aren't pretty.

But if anyone ever feels the need to ask me to review a book they have written, they can damn well forget about it.

If anyone feels they would like to read the review that was taken down to determine for themselves whether it was, indeed, Spam, it can be found here

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